5 Essential Qualities Employers Look For & How to Get Them, Part 1

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By Christine

This is Part 1 of a 2-part series of articles. You can read Part 2 here.

What do employers want?

Knowing what they want is one thing, but showing it to them in the recruiting process can be challenging. Reading a list of skills doesn’t necessarily prepare you any better to land your dream job. You have to accumulate experience. Demonstrate this in an interview. Then maybe, just maybe, you’ll get the job offer you’ve been waiting for.

That’s why we decided early on in our research for this article that it wasn’t enough to just show you the qualities that employers want in you. To prepare you as much as we can, we’ll also:

  • show you how to train up these skills in yourself,
  • give you interview examples to work from for your own interviews and CV,
  • and give you a recommended reading list if you’re up for learning more.

So what are the first 5 qualities that employers look for in their future employees?


Verbal Communication
Able to express your ideas clearly and confidently in speech
Why this is important:

  • You don’t work alone. Whether it’s managing your team, or convincing your manager, you constantly need to communicate with others. If you have no problem getting your ideas across, everything you do at work becomes easier.
  • You’ll sound smart. Clarity of speech, just like appearances and body language, is one of the first impressions most people have of you. Speaking confidently, not grasping for words and being concise presents you as a competent individual. 

How to build this skill:

  • Practice. Be aware of how you explain things to anyone, even if it’s just describing to your Dad which tree did the cat get stuck on this time. If you find yourself repeating yourself a lot, or if your listener is asking a lot of clarifying questions, or getting frustrated, you should work on how you present your ideas.
  • Clarity, not complication. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to insert complicated words to sound intelligent. Outside of academia, people are rarely impressed when you use big words, especially when they don’t understand it (and therefore what you’re trying to explain).


Interview examples:

  • “I am a Tae-Kwon-Do instructor. Besides teaching classes regularly, for the last 3 years I have been giving guest lectures to the Women’s Society of X University on the importance of self-defence.”
  • “I regularly present and speak on stage. For example, in my current job at Company X, I pitch ideas to leadership on what their next big product should be on behalf of my team. I also usually host the annual conference for my company, introducing speakers and moderating where needed.”

Recommended Reading:


Teamwork
Work confidently within a group
Why this is important:

  • Again, you don’t work alone. You rarely work entirely alone, and you rarely get to choose all of your team mates. Working well with randomly-assigned people is a much-needed skill for employers, because then they know that you won’t be a troublesome employee because you keep developing problems with the people you work with.
  • Effective teams. Say your team is like a rowboat in a race. If everyone rows together in a coordinated way, the rowboat gets to where it wants to go as quickly as it can. But if no one can agree on which direction to row, or how fast to row, the boat ends up staying in place. If team members can’t work together, often that team achieves very little.

How to build this skill:

  • Move out of your comfort zone. Next time you have a choice to work with someone you relatively dislike, take it. Take it as a challenge: keep the end goal in sight and work towards it together.
  • Listen to others. Remember that teamwork also means following other ideas. Listen to other teammates’ ideas, and even if the group makes a decision that you disagree with, try and see it from the group perspective and get on board.

Interview examples:

  • “I was Secretary of the Acapella Society in university. Our committee was independently selected and therefore most of us were new to each other. Nonetheless, it was the most effective team the society has had. Under our leadership, we won the National Championships and boosted membership by 400% within the year. I coordinated some of our routines and songs, and regularly hosted practice as well.”
  • “The team I was in a few years ago had issues working together due to some unresolved conflicts between some of the members. Working with the team leader, we focused on building team relationships for the next 6 months, where I organised team events that specifically appealed to the interests of all conflicted parties. Through our efforts, our team are now all close friends and work great together.”

Recommended Reading:

  • The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork Workbook, John C Maxwell: In this book, John addresses how to build better teams from various perspectives: a team member, specific team roles, and a team leader. Summarising these into 17 ‘laws’ to follow, this is a clear guide to creating great teams in any role – but you obviously have to practice what you read too! 

Commercial Awareness
Understand the commercial realities affecting the organisation
Why this is important:

  • Thinkers, not robots. Employers want their employees to understand the company’s priorities and interests, as this influences what each employee prioritises and decides in their everyday work. By constantly asking ‘can I be doing something that is more crucial to the company?’, employees instantly become a much more valuable asset, be it understanding which product to priorities in a pitch, or focusing on team projects that will help the company’s overall strategy.

How to build this skill:

  • Always remind yourself of the big picture. Once a day, or once every few hours, ask yourself if what you’re doing is crucial to the company, or if there is something that you could be doing that better addresses the company’s overall needs. If that thought gives you an alternative idea, pitch it to your manager!
  • Warning: this does not mean ‘do what you like’. Always make sure your manager is aware and agrees with what you’re doing. You don’t want to be the guy that is totally unpredictable because you drop what you’re supposed to be doing and start doing something else without anyone else knowing.
  • Read up about the industry. Know the big trends affecting your industry. If you’re in finance, make sure you are on top of M&A news, the business strategies of all large banks in the market, and the who’s who of your target area.

Interview examples:

  • “I created the role that I’m currently in. I realised that my company lacked a person specifically to sell product X, even though this product brings in the third-highest amount of revenue to the company, and lower-ranked products have dedicated salespeople. By presenting my case to the company director, not only did he agree, but also allocated two additional people to create a team.
  • “As Treasurer of the Widgets Club, I realised that most of our society’s issues stemmed from lack of funding. By focusing on a campaign to increase member fees and recruit more interest and members, we improved the Club’s financial standing, paving the way to better and more activities for our members going forward.”

Recommended Reading:

  • The Every Day MBA, Chris Dalton: The key in what you learn in MBA courses is practicing its application in the real world. This book covers all MBA subjects in an engaging manner, and also focuses on self-reflection and how you’d apply what you’ve learnt to your life and career.
  • Business Genius, James Bannerman: A visual and easy-to-read book, and an entertaining read. Recommended for those new to applying self-improvement!

Analytical Skills
Gather information systematically to establish facts & principles. Problem solving
Why this is important:

  • Be your manager’s brains. Good analytical skills are one of the rarest skills found in employees. A good employee can act as the hands and feet of their managers (i.e. they get work done for them), but a great employee with good analytical skills can help them think and decide as well. If your manager only needs to pick out options that you’ve laid out for them or give you their approval, that’s when you know you’re one step closer to promotion.

How to build this skill:

  • Look for the question. Analytical work can always be summarised into a question, such as ‘What are the main sources of revenue of our company?’, ‘Which companies within industry X are ripe for a takeover?’, ‘Why are our costs so high?’. This guides your entire analytical project and ensures you perform the right work. Learning to ask the right overall question is important, and takes more skill than you might think.  Take a look at this scene from Moneyball, which is about baseball, but could easily be found in any corporate setting:

  • Answer it with facts. Use factual evidence to back up your analysis. Avoid using your personal ideas, and always back up all assumptions and opinions with one of the following
    • Mathematical proof: The clearest way to conclude your research is to prove it mathematically – however be aware that often mathematical analysis is based on certain assumptions, and your conclusion is only as valid as the assumptions you make.
    • Factual research: By reading and consolidating existing research, you can get an idea of what previous work has discovered and concluded.
    • Expert opinion: If what you’re looking for is niche enough that no previous research exists, look to contact and interview leading voices in the subject to paint an eventual picture. If that sounds terribly approximate to you, remember that it’s a niche subject – what you’re doing is the best that anyone else has ever done.
  • Look for the ‘so what’. Whatever you do, when you’re nearing the completion of a task, always ask yourself – ‘so what’? Asking that will bring out useful conclusions that you can pass on when you present your work. Done an analysis to look for the best-performing funds focusing on Brazil? Great. So what?
    • So we should invest in Brazil, particularly these funds?
    • So Brazil doesn’t really perform well compared to Argentina, and we should invest there instead?
    • So there is a gap in the Brazilian market, and we should launch a Brazil-focused fund? 

Interview examples:

  • “Our management consultancy firm was doing well, but we also didn’t know what we should be doing more of. Working with the firm CEO, I took this on as a project. Through my analysis, I discovered that we didn’t need to do more rainmaking, as our research releases brought in more enquiries per man-hour spent. By refocusing on performing more industry research, not only did we increase our thought leadership and brand in this area, but brought in even more business.”

Recommended Reading:

  • Critical Thinking, Richard Paul & Linda ElderA great tool to incorporate critical thinking not just at work, but in your personal life as well. The book also looks at implicit assumptions and biases that influence our everyday decisions, and how to avoid making them.

Proactivity
​Able to act on initiative, identify opportunities & proactive in putting forward ideas & solutions
Why this is important:

  • Be your manager’s brains. Good analytical skills are one of the rarest skills found in employees. A good employee can act as the hands and feet of their managers (i.e. they get work done for them), but a great employee with good analytical skills can help them think and decide as well. If your manager only needs to pick out options that you’ve laid out for them or give you their approval, that’s when you know you’re one step closer to promotion.

How to build this skill:

  • Progress a little every day. Proactivity is a state of mind – you’ll have to motivate yourself to have it. A useful tool is to not focus on the amount of work and proactivity, but rather focusing on doing something every day. For example, if you think it would be a good idea to do some industry research alongside your usual work, don’t try and ‘earmark’ some time in the future to ‘do it all at once’. Instead, do a little every day, even if the first step on the first day is to create a text file with the project’s title. Often taking the first step is the hardest, and by not pressuring yourself with a set amount of work, you get a lot more work done that you think.
  • Always look out for opportunities. We have been conditioned through processes like school to expect that achievements are a result of slow and steady work. This doesn’t necessarily apply at work, where a significant proportion of achievements that matter could be the result of seizing opportunities – fully applying yourself at the right time. For example, retail trends can be highly volatile – 60% of retail sales occur during the Thanksgiving and Christmas periods. During the loom band craze, lots of retail stores increased their sales and profit exponentially by reacting fast to the trend and stocking up on loom bands, whereas others lost out by passing on the opportunity. Look out for personal opportunities, and when they present themselves, throw yourself fully at them.

Interview examples:

  • “Although not part of my role, I realised that the results from my recent project could be rewritten and published as a great industry paper. After discussing with my team director, I offered to do most of the legwork over the course of the next month. The published paper was well-received and subsequently I was promoted to manage our thought leadership initiatives.”

Recommended Reading:

  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Pretty much the best book to address self-proactivity – if you’re looking to improve your life and general effectiveness (according to your own definition), this book will provide you with the blueprint. Nothing that is discussed would be terribly new or revolutionary, but the clarity of writing and tips on how to apply the advice to your personal circumstances will set you on the right track.

Which skills do you think you especially need for your job, or you need help with? Share your thoughts and ask your question in the comments below!

This is Part 1 of a 2-part series of articles. You can read Part 2 here.

Zee Tan
Author: Zee Tan

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